The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

The skills considered critical for an executive today were unheard of just two decades ago—or were in their nascent stages at best. Back then, Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning, and autonomous solutions were in their infancy. Now they play a significant role in business decisions. Given the rapidity of change, experts agree that similar transformations not yet perceived will impact future generations of corporate leaders.

To future-proof their careers, new entrants into the corporate world—and those already rising through the ranks—must be open to “unlearning and relearning,” as one education expert put it.

“I believe that skills such as innovative problem-solving, strategic thinking, and effective decision-making will always be at the forefront,” said Professor Kevyn Yong, associate dean of Executive Education at the Asia-Pacific campus in Singapore of the ESSEC Business School, headquartered in France. “The difference in 10 years’ time is that these skills will be needed in a very different context from today,” he told The ACCJ Journal.

“This is a future context that involves greater complexity, in that the problem-solver, strategic thinker, and decision-maker faces the paradox of information and technology,” he added. “That is, on the one hand, the individual will be aided by higher information quality and quantity, and by new technologies to make better decisions. On the other hand, the risk of information overload and ever-changing technologies makes for a highly VUCA—or volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous—environment.”

There is also likely to be an added emphasis on management skills that meet people’s changing needs, such as growing concerns over work–life balance, said Professor Andrew Chan, executive associate dean of MBA programs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Previously, organizations were more hierarchical and are now shifting towards more task-based ones. Strategies such as blue-ocean [new market entry exploration], corporate social integration, and technology disruptions are moving in. The different skills, knowledge, and strategies are adjusted to the changing demands of the global economy,” he said, citing the rapid development of China’s Belt and Road and Greater Bay Area initiatives. “One needs to understand how they can work best at their functional areas.”

“In Hong Kong, professional skills such as accountancy, legal, compliance, due diligence, and investing have been evolving based on strategic changes. Technologies such as Big Data, AI, and deep learning will replace skill sets like CRM and data mining,” Chan added. “Therefore, continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning—inside and outside the workplace—is critical.”

And while Angelina Kee, associate director of the Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments (CAMRI) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), says the precise skills that are required by executives in the future are “anyone’s guess,” she does believe there are two important life skills that we all should embrace: adaptability and teachability.

“With the world constantly changing, to thrive a successful executive must learn to adapt to changes, make the best of the hand he or she has been dealt, and learn from experiences,” she said. “A good understanding of technological trans­formation—and how it weaves itself into the work arena—is an important trend to embrace, while keeping up with the latest developments in your area of expertise would be very helpful in future­proofing yourself.”

Essec Business School Asia-Pacific campus in Singapore

Asked to identify which jobs are likely to face the biggest challenges, analysts agreed that positions which are routine and repetitive are at risk of being replaced—potentially quite soon—by AI.

Those working in executive recruitment concur.

“AI, Big Data, robotics, and machine learning are a near and present threat to many of the roles or jobs that exist today in lots of our industries and institutions,” said Struan McKay, chief executive officer of RGF Executive Search Japan.

“At lower levels, as an example, transport drivers will, for sure, be almost entirely replaced by autonomous solutions. But finance, insurance, retail, and other sectors will all see large-scale disruption,” he said. “A data analyst role wouldn’t be my first choice for career path from now. A more human-touch choice—such as sales, marketing, creative design, or law—would be high on my list of recommendations.”

According to McKay, “Too many students enter the workplace with narrow perceptions that stay with them for life.” To prepare these students, education establishments, he said, must address three key skill areas:

  • Functional
    Coding, AI development, engineering, agriculture, etc.
  • Language
    Tech is unlikely to fully break this barrier in the near future
  • Global
    Thinking outside the box, seeing the big picture and alternatives

In the face of globalization and digitalization, JAC Recruitment Principal Analyst Toshihiro Kurozawa believes that institutions need to instruct students in “how to learn.” They must deliver individualized education and introduce the “flipped classroom,” as he calls it, a learning environment in which the gathering of information and knowledge is carried out before the class, then debated and dissected.

The Centre for Asset Management Research and Investments (CAMRI) at the National University of Singapore

The schools interviewed for this article are acutely aware of the responsibility on their shoulders to deliver an education that meets the needs of both tomorrow’s executives and the business environment in which they will work.

“To meet the changing needs of companies, we continuously collaborate with our corporate partners and friends in industry as we strive to produce cutting-edge research that advances and informs best practices,” said Yong.

As part of that, ESSEC is focused on co-creating courses and developing new areas of study that meet the forward-looking needs of companies. Examples are the school’s Master of Science in Data Analytics and Master of Science in Marketing and Digital programs.

The average age of students in the full-time ESSEC Global MBA program is 29, while the average age of those pursuing the ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA is 39. Students are drawn from a wide variety of business sectors, with about 29 percent coming from marketing and sales, 15 percent from consulting, and about 14 percent from general management. A further 13 percent are drawn from business development. Other industrial sectors—including finance, operations, supply chain, purchasing, accounting, and management control—are also represented.

The ESSEC & Mannheim Executive MBA takes 15 months to complete and is designed to “help prepare future leaders for continuously changing landscapes and uncertainty,” explained Yong. The course achieves this through “adherence to best practices and the essentials of business, while also tackling newer focal areas, including digital business, innovation, and entrepreneurship.”

The institution also runs corporate programs, assisting partners to develop courses that focus on helping their senior leaders—including C-suite professionals—“stay sharp and ahead of their competition, and help future leaders, such as high-potential talent, build the necessary skills and knowledge to lead their organizations in tomorrow’s context.”

Back in Singapore, NUS has similarly fostered close ties with organizations, policymakers, and businesses “to better understand their requirements,” said Kee.

“This enables us to be intentional in educating students who are relevant to the needs of the business community,” she said. Students at NUS hone their skills through internships, consulting practicums, and other experience-based learning opportunities.

“Companies value creative thinkers, problem-solvers, strategists, individuals who are resilient and creators of practical products,” she added.

To answer the growing needs of industry, through CAMRI the school offers a graduate certificate in Applied Portfolio Management. The certificate can be earned as part of an executive program, and the upcoming 2019 run is scheduled for one week from November 18. Also planned is an Executive Master of Science in Investments and Portfolio Risk Management program, which is scheduled to start in April 2020 and targets professionals with relevant work experience.

“CAMRI’s goal is to prepare our students to become well-trained and well-intentioned money managers and research analysts via hands-on, team-based, experiential learning at both the academic and professional levels,” Kee said.
“We achieve this by equipping our facilities with the best research, teaching, and learning tools available in the asset management industry, and to serve as an incubator and gene­rator of new investment research, strategies, and ideas.

“In the process, we hope to be recognized as Asia’s leading center for asset management research and investments, which is part of the NUS Business School’s aim to be Asia’s premier global business school.”

Lobby of CUHK Business School

CAMRI’s EMIR program is designed to equip students with the tools they require to unravel and assess developments in the finance sector, with specific regard to the latest developments. Key components of the course include teaching students to:

  • Understand fundamental corporate valuations
  • Use statistical tools to analyze securities
  • Apply the latest developments in fintech
  • Select the best tools for portfolio risk management

And, Kee added, the course has been designed to ensure it remains relevant for the future.

“First, as AI is deployed in the world of trading and asset management, there will be a growing need to keep pace with developments in this area,” she said. “Second, financial services companies will have a growing responsibility for accountability as regulatory scrutiny intensifies. This elevated obligation and responsibility will result in the need for greater documentation and disclosure—all of which work in favor of using machines more.”

As a result, the program “is packaged to neatly address the issues of mastering quantitative methodology, machine learning, and the latest developments in that space,” Kee said. “All this is provided alongside foundational groun­ding in fundamental corporate financial analysis and valuation.”

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Business School, “Programs are constantly improving to cater to the changing needs of the business world,” said Chan.

“Despite having the same course names year after year, the components for core subjects such as accounting, financial management, business law, and so on are changed to reflect the new knowledge that is required for a student to excel. Elective courses—such as entrepreneurship spirit, startups, and startup financing—develop the skills and convey the knowledge that students will need to stand out in a changing economic environment.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most sought-after course at the university at present is Applied Entrepreneurship, a highly practical examination of the sector that emphasizes topics related to executing a business opportunity and securing the required financial resources. Students are also taught about making investment presentations to a group of senior executives, angel investors, and venture capitalists, as well as being taught the skills and knowledge required to launch their own business.

The school also makes the most of Hong Kong’s close ties with China and its unrivalled knowledge of the Chinese market, Chan said, while the MBA course is “equipping future mana­gers with what will be expected of them.”

These are just three examples of schools that see where we are headed and have tailored programs not just for today, but for tomorrow. A decade can pass in the blink of an eye, and those who rest on their laurels—satisfied with a currently comfortable position—could find themselves left out in the cold 10 years hence. The world of 2030 may be unrecognizable to those prospering today. While the exact needs of tomorrow cannot be known, there is no doubt that we will find ourselves in a data-driven world. Best to dive in and start future-proofing now.

Julian Ryall is Japan correspondent for The Daily Telegraph.
A decade can pass in the blink of an eye, and those who rest on their laurels—satisfied with a currently comfortable position—could find themselves left out in the cold 10 years hence.